Some laughed when brothers Norman and Robert Pepersack staged the flag-waving kickoff of their campaigns for sheriff of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, respectively, by shaking hands across the county line on Law Day 1990.
But, as 56-year-old Norman Pepersack noted yesterday, in the aftermath of both brothers' victories, no one's laughing now.
"Between Bob and me, it was not a game," Norman said. "We took our campaign seriously."
Since that May kickoff at the Hammonds Ferry Road bridge, the brothers have gone on to achieve what may well be a Maryland first.
"Never in the history of the state of Maryland have two brothers held the same office in adjacent counties, or anywhere, at the same time," Bob said.
Norm Pepersack defeated incumbent Sheriff J. Edward Malone, 62, while brother Bob trounced seven-term Sheriff William R. Huggins, 75, who himself had become a courthouse institution.
"I'm still coming down to earth," Norm Pepersack said. "It's a very good feeling."
The brothers, both career State Police officers, made the most of their name, sharing "Pepersack for Sheriff" bumper stickers and lawn signs.
Norm Pepersack retired from the State Police in 1982 as a first sergeant.
Bob Pepersack, 49, a sergeant and Glen Burnie resident, will retire Dec. 1 from the same State Police post his brother once held.
The Pepersacks' careers paralleled each other long before Election Day.
"At one time," Bob said, "we worked out of the Bel Air barracks together. Norm eventually came to headquarters and wound up nTC with the duties I now have as commander of the firearms licensing section."
The name Pepersack has meant law enforcement since 1920, when their grandfather, M.A. Pepersack, became Maryland's first state trooper, assigned badge number 1, Bob said. Uncle Vernon Pepersack served as a Maryland prison warden and commissioner of correction.
Their father, however, broke family tradition by becoming a rug salesman.
The brothers grew up in Baltimore and shared good fortune in a dangerous profession. "I never had to shoot at anyone, and I don't think Norm has either. Fifty years of police work between us and we've never had to fire a gun," Bob said proudly.
Until this year, however, the Pepersacks did not share the same party label.
Norm Pepersack first ran against Malone in 1986 as a Democrat and lost. This year, he switched parties to run, much like Roger Hayden, the former school board president and county executive-elect. Pepersack campaigned frequently with Hayden and acknowledged that he benefited greatly by Hayden's strong showing at the polls.
Similarly, a tax revolt in Anne Arundel and a hot county executive race won by Republican Robert R. Neall helped his brother, a lifelong Republican making his first attempt at elected office. "They call me a political novice," Bob said, "and I guess I am."
Bob also banked on voters being tired of the 28-year reign of Sheriff Huggins, whose effectiveness became a campaign issue.
The Baltimore County sheriff is paid $55,000 a year to manage an office of 300 employees, including 50 sworn deputies, with an operating budget of $11.4 million.
Norm Pepersack said his priorities will be pushing the 200-bed detention-center expansion, getting the proposed 100-bed drunk driving facility built and building a new jail, somewhere outside of Towson.
In Anne Arundel, Bob Pepersack will preside over a smaller corps of deputies in a department with fewer responsibilities. He plans to reorganize the department and regain control over duties that have landed in the hands of "rent-a-cops" and others. During the campaign, he blasted Huggins for allowing private security guards to transport prisoners in certain instances.